Is it Illegal to 3D Print a Gun?
Since 3D guns are in the news, the question that surrounds them is: are they illegal to manufacture? If they are illegal to manufacture, is it illegal to sell the schematics that are then used to print the guns? Is it illegal to merely possess these schematics?
These are the sorts of questions that Congress is currently pondering as the fear of guns extends into a frontier making them infinitely more accessible.
The Undetectable Firearms Act
Under the Undetectable Firearms Act, it is illegal to produce any weapon that cannot be detected by weapons detectors. This restricts the type of material that guns can be made from. This includes porcelain and plastic. Since the majority of 3D printed guns use plastic as a material, this law covers the illegal manufacture and possession of guns that are not made of metal. In that sense, possessing or printing a plastic gun is an illegal weapons charge.
But what about 3D printed guns that use metal or the “ghost guns” that only contain schematics for printing the guns? This is where things get a bit more interesting.
The Case against Defense Distributed
Defense Distributed made 3D printed guns available to the world. They did not have to sell the physical guns. In fact, they did not sell anything. The schematics for the guns were free and open source. Anyone could download, edit, or republish variations on the schematics. Most of the data simply boils down to a sequence of numbers. Is it illegal to distribute that sequence of numbers?
The Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security argued that it was. In a suit filed against Defense Distributed the state argued that Defense Distributed violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. These laws outline a series of mandates for weapons manufacturers including, but not limited to, registering with the state. It seems, on the surface, to prohibit the transfer of information on fashioning weapons from one individual to a foreign party. Since the information was freely available on the internet, anyone from anywhere had access to that information.
However, in the case against Defense Distributed, the court found in favor of the defendants and against the state. As of August 1st, 2018, Defense Distributed can resume disseminating the schematics for 3D printed guns.
Nonetheless, it is still a crime to possess a gun printed from plastic. That hasn’t changed.
First and Second Amendment Issues
For the time being, the Trump Administration is content to allow the law that prohibits plastic guns to do the job of regulating 3D printed weapons. Defense Distributed may continue to disseminate the information without fear of legal reprisals.
In this case, distributing the instructions for fashioning the gun is still protected speech. Nonetheless, it is speech that stands a precarious chance of being silenced. The Second Amendment, while ostensibly protecting these guns, says nothing about performing background checks on those who apply for licenses or permits. In fact, it does not prohibit the government from demanding either licenses or permits. And lastly, there are still no laws prohibiting the manufacture of guns for personal use on one’s own property.
Contact a Defense Attorney Today
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